Karen Ann Wojahn

                                © 1992

Oh!  To heed the wind's wild call

                        to soar--

Not just above the mundane matters of my life,

                        but more--

Above the lowliness of my own mountaintops.


To spread my wings and--

                        like the mighty eagle--

Take to the wind-blown heights

                        I've yet to know.


"Set aside such lofty visions!"

                        Other voices cry.

"We have no wings!

                        You were not meant to fly!"


Why, then beckon me to glide

                        when I

Am ill-equipped to ride the clouds and sail

                        the sky,

To bank and dip, to loop-the-loop and ride the beam?


"But dreams have wings!" 

                        The Wind still calls to me, and

Shouts to my earth-bound soul--

                        "Come fly!  Come fly!"


Too often, I find that people confuse transformation with transcendence. Transcendence is that somewhat out-of-body experience of pure bliss. I have experienced this on occasion in response to beauty, love, relationship, music and various spiritual encounters. Let me tell you – when this happens I just don’t want it to end and when it does, I want more. While these numinous occurrences can change our perspective on life and beyond, the moment begins to recede as everyday life ebbs back into the forefront of our consciousness.

  Transformation, on the other hand, is a result rather than a response. It is the result of hard work that ends in the death of something malignant to make room for new life. It makes sense that the butterfly was chosen to be a symbol of transformation. But while we are all caught up in the beauty of the end result, there are a whole bunch of caterpillars going through tough times with no clue as to the meaning of their struggle.

You can see why it is a whole lot more fun to chase transcendent experiences rather than to stay put and work through the process of transformation. Transcendence is a spiritual adrenaline rush and can become addicting. And like all addictions, we become depressed and disillusioned when that good feeling eludes us. And so, people church-hop, fill their weekends with retreats, buy more books than they will ever read and click on every Internet link that promises an express highway to permanent bliss.

Transformation is, to quote Eugene Peterson, “a long obedience in the same direction.” We stay present with our lives. We are honest about the patterns of thoughts and actions in our lives that do not serve us. We desire to be our authentic glimpse of the image of the Divine. It is mindful-attention that allows us to make moment-by-moment choices that support our intention to transform. As with the caterpillar we have to intentionally weave our cocoon. And, anyone who has watched a cocoon, anxiously anticipating the butterfly, knows that metamorphosis takes time. 

It is during this vulnerable in-between stage that love, compassion, forgiveness, grace and mercy become precious refreshment. Gradually our unique and exquisite wings begin to open. As we experience the freedom of flight in one area of our life, it is motivation to discover what other wings are waiting to be set free.

When we embrace the practice of transformation we can inwardly relax, creating a gap for insights – those “ah-ha” moments to occur. Some of them are even transcendent.

                                                                       - David Milligan


I don’t always walk to work, but when I do I experience moments that lead to transformation.

Some mornings I wake up to the firing squad of very specific regrets and very vague insecurities, which stay with me like a posse through coffee, morning news, and Facebook. They walk the dog with me.

Then I set out on the walk to work. I remember what the artist Joseph Beuys said he did and recommended others do in the morning: find an object very close to you and focus on it, then look up to find the thing you think is the thing farthest away from you. This simple act feels like a wordless prayer, a meditation that changes perception and can be completed in a heartbeat. When I do this I find my posse stops for a minute to look too. We see a candy wrapper on the sidewalk. We see the changing colors on the side of the mountain. We, the posse and I, start to notice other things. They get distracted and finally skulk off when they lose their footing.

Walking block after block the things I notice become the lines of a poem, an inventory of joy and mystery:

  • One crushed black rubber glove
  • A woman standing with an empty umbrella stroller
  • A pile of sunflower seeds
  • A boy on a bike crossing Irvine against the light singing what sounds like a show tune  as loud as he can
  • A torn piece of notebook paper that says : Love Heart U - Samantha

I puzzled over the note wondering if Samantha is the lover or the beloved, and if the note reached its intended either way.

How does attention to these mundane things spark transformation? Seeing, wondering, and imagining immerse me, to quote a recently posted essay, in the process of shedding old skin – the old skin of looking inward and choosing familiar, destructive routine instead of seeing evidence of life and grace around me. Once that skin is peeled away I am free to feel the moment of transformation.

And I am glad Samantha has love in her life.


                                                                               - June Waters


Like many people my age, I grew up on some pretty specific TV images, including the TV productions of Peter Pan and Cinderella. My images of transformation were images of magic: Wendy Darling and her brothers gaining the ability to fly via pixie dust, Cinderella becoming the belle of the ball in her glass slippers after her fairy godmother waved her wand a few times. 

There are a few problems here. First, these transformations had limits: pixie dust wore off; Cinderella's coach turned back into a pumpkin at midnight. 

Secondly, these transformations were instantaneous: poof! A wave of the wand, and a rat could become a footman.

Real transformation - the kind we're talking about in the light of Easter - is harder than waving a wand, but more permanent than pixie dust. And Easter points the way to real transformation. 

Transformation is not precisely the same as change: we change all the time, being bumped along by our life experiences, and we learn how to avoid a hot stove and enjoy chocolate and what it's like to receive and give a kiss. 

"Transformation" is more akin to dying and rising, or shedding our skin and growing a new one; it's more like peeling the layers of an onion. We are transformed "by the renewing of our minds", as the Apostle Paul puts it; we are transformed when something in us dies.

"When I was a child," Paul writes," I thought like a child, I spoke like a child, I reasoned like a child; but now that I am an adult, I have put away childish ways " That's transformation. And as followers of Jesus, we willingly undergo many deaths and resurrections in order to become more like the one we follow. We learn to let go of our most selfish actions and replace them with actions that help to heal the world around us. We learn to put aside our overly black-and-white pictures of the world, the ones with the stick figures labeled "us" and "them", "good" and "bad", and we learn to see gradually that God's grace is for everyone. 

Transformation is a lifelong process, and as we grow older, we learn to embrace this process as the work of God's Spirit within us, helping us to answer Christ's call to follow where he leads. And without a doubt, where he leads us is through the valley of the shadow of death into the bright morning of Easter, over and over again.

                                               - Kay Sylvester


What does TRANSFORMATION look like in the wake of Easter, our celebration of resurrection in all areas of life? The ultimate example I can think of is parenthood. Parenthood brings about a major overhaul in all areas of the parent’s life.


Motherhood has initiated me into a whole other experience of myself. My priorities are radically upended. The depth of feeling that my heart is capable of is exponentially increased, both for feelings of love and affection as well as terror and grief, should anything happen to my child. Some aspects of this transformation are grueling, maddening, aggravating beyond measure. Motherhood is, hands down, both the most marvelous and the most difficult and all-consuming job I’ve ever had. And it is 100% worth it!


I’m struck by the fact that this transformation, while bringing me greater joy and meaning in life than I ever knew possible, is simultaneously saturated in struggle. We never, ever “arrive” at some stage in life where we cease to struggle or suffer, and parenthood makes this point painfully obvious. The story of Easter likewise highlights this paradox: we live with both the celebration of Resurrection while fully aware that it does not sweep away the ongoing struggle of life or magically solve the world’s problems.


I wonder if we sometimes miss the presence of transformation in our lives because we are distracted, irritated, or disappointed by the ubiquitous presence of struggle or pain. May we grow in our awareness of the precious gifts of new, transformed life all around us. Embrace resurrection!

                                                                           - Cassie Lewis


Still Weeping

It’s eerily quiet this morning—even for Sabbath. When I try to remember last week at this time, it’s as though I’m looking down into a deep well, trying to see some light—any light—reflected in the water. But there is no light, no living water—only a dim and foggy recollection like you get in a dream that is unfolding into a nightmare. But in this nightmare, I am awake, although my eyes are weary from weeping all night.

Like most of the women living in Jerusalem and its outskirts, I wasn’t in the city yesterday. I was here, scurrying to clean away all traces of the Passover Seder we had eaten the night before, cooking early for yesterday’s supper and whatever we and our houseguests will eat today. Everything had to be ready before sundown yesterday, so as not to break the Sabbath.

Still, the young men and older boys had gone into the city with Cleopas and his companion. Always bustling, especially around the Temple, there’s a lot to see—especially during Passover week. So many Jews make pilgrimage, coming from as far away as Rome or Cyrene, maybe for the first time in their lives. There are converted Greeks, Romans, Ethiopians, whose faith is sometimes deeper than that of many children of Abraham.

Not everyone is here for God, of course—blessed be His name. There are legitimate peddlers and sneaky pickpockets, dangerous thugs and clever thieves, jesters and pranksters. While the Roman soldiers do try to keep a lid on that simmering pot, most of us keep our children close to home and our daughters inside and away from leering eyes, and we don’t venture into the city alone.

Even so, my houseguests did go into the heart of Jerusalem yesterday, stumbling back here in shock and disbelief, choking back tears and breaking into sobs as they told the awful story. After eating the Passover meal, Jesus and his closest friends had gone to the Gethsemane garden, where Jesus often prayed. Judas, that snake, had betrayed him to some of the Temple leaders, and the Temple police had arrested him! He was tried for blasphemy in a hastily gathered and totally biased court and then sent off to Governor Pilate to be tried for sedition. By nine o’clock in the morning, Jesus was condemned—crucified along with two thieves. Even HE thought what we now thought: God had forsaken him. By noon he was dead!

We sobbed our hearts out last night. “Why did this happen?” we asked ourselves—but no one had an answer. Even if there WERE an answer, I doubt it would have comforted us. We had been so caught up in our expectations that we never took a good, hard look at reality. Oh, yes, many of us women saw it, especially after Jesus raised his friend Lazarus from the dead. We knew the Jewish leaders—more interested in power, prestige, and money than in the people they were supposed to serve—would not tolerate Jesus’ messages much longer.

Even last Sunday we let ourselves get caught in the moment when He rode that ridiculous colt of a donkey into Jerusalem, and all the children were waving branches and calling out, “Hosanna!” He looked like a fool on that little foal—his legs hanging down so he could almost walk, the unbroken colt doing bucking occasionally, and all of us shouting, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

No doubt others saw the preposterous parade as just more Passover horseplay. Why didn’t we? What made us see a conquering hero, riding his steed into the city to claim his rightful crown? What made any of us think he was THE Messiah, here to rescue us from all of our fears, all of our sorrows, all of our oppressors—both religious and political?

We were such fools! Now all we have left are our tears, our faulty memories and misunderstandings, our hearts filled with grief and anger and disillusionment. All my life they have told me that God will send a Redeemer. Well, then, here’s what I want to know: How does he plan to redeem THIS?

They say that tomorrow may be a better day. Cleopas and his companion will be on their way back to Emmaus bright and early, and I’ll have this little hut back to my family and myself. Maybe then I can try to piece together the fragments of meaning in all of this. 

The Psalmist tells us that "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning." Maybe so—but for today, I am doubtful, hesitant to believe in anything or anyone again. For now, I am still weeping.

                                                                            - Karen Ann Wojahn ©2016


Whenever I have felt disillusionment, it is usually from one of four corners in my life: people, places, events and things.

I acquire things that don't live up to my expectations, I experience events that don't live up to my expectations, I visit places that don't live up to my expectations, and people in my life disappoint me and don't live up to my expectations. I suffer.

Are you noticing that my problem might not be the people, places, events or things? The problem is my expectations. I am the problem. Well actually, it is the fantasies and stories that I create that become the fodder for my disillusionment.

I think that the failing formula is: Looking at the future + unrealistic expectations + fear of failure + control = crash.

What it comes down to is a resistance to reality. We suffer when we are unwilling to embrace the "what isness" of our lives.

As we are walking through Holy Week, we see that Jesus had plenty of opportunity to feel disillusioned. His disciples failed him, the masses turned against him, the religious hierarchy betrayed him. His dream of "Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven" was certainly not going to be accomplished in his lifetime.

But Jesus didn't have unrealistic expectations of how his disciples would act, he did not pretend that the masses were not fickle, nor did he entertain fantasies about winning over the religious elite with his clever repartee.

He placed his trust in God, even when the end result looked tragic. He was willing to face life on its own terms rather than to squander time wishing things were different.

Jesus' relationship with God let him in on a little secret. Life was more powerful than death. Death was never the end of the story. Enter Easter.

We are so myopic about life. We believe that our limited perspectives and skewed perceptions are truth. Author Pema Chodron writes that, "we want to name our experiences as good or bad, and the truth is we just don't know."

Maybe the thing we need to give up in these final hours of lent is our fantasies about life - so that real life can happen. Maybe we will begin to realize that even those little deaths in our lives can be followed by new life. Maybe that is how we can become Easter people in a world terrified of death.

New formula: Stay in the present + enthusiasm + let go of results = Fulfilling Life.

                                                                        - David Milligan


Once again, we encounter grief and despair. . .

   We pray for victims, for families, for those who live in fear. 

   We pray for hope. We pray for peace.

   We promise that this time we will remember. 

   We know that you call us to live and work for peace.

Holy One, we despair. Help us  remember that we are yours, people of peace. Help us.

                                                                       - Laura Siriani


When my first marriage ended in 2008, I was crushed. The sadness and pain overwhelmed my entire being, making it literally hard to breathe. I responded by declaring the following year a Sabbath Year, devoting myself entirely to the process of healing from the trauma of divorce. It was the wisest thing I’ve ever done. I never could have imagined the beauty and joy that awaited me on the other side of feeling so desperately lost and unmoored and broken. I am so grateful that I wasn’t badly scarred by the experience but emerged healthier, stronger, more grounded, and far better prepared for relationship than before the crisis.


That is the hope I offer to those in the midst of a dark season of disillusionment. These painful passages are sometimes a necessary step before a new, life-giving season can unfold, whether in external life or in our deepest core. It can be a holy, terrifying, vulnerable moment of waiting and stillness while attending to one’s needs with utmost gentleness and compassion.


The challenge when we face one of those dreaded episodes of disillusionment is to take heart and fully open ourselves to it, to stay with the swirling questions that emerge, resisting the urge to flee from the pain and fear. We are so blessed to have the profound story of Holy Week to guide us in this task: Jesus prayed all night in anxious terror, then chose to walk bravely through the painful path before him, not knowing what awaited him. There is ALWAYS the possibility of resurrection when we walk bravely into the dark. Take heart!


Seventy Times Seven


        “Lord, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?" 

         "Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy times seven.”

                  —Matthew 18.21-22

Because you will find

that many reasons not to.

Because it will take that many times

to go through the motions

before you do it from the heart.

Because you have to keep setting

that burden down again

until you are free.

Because we never stop

letting go.

Steve Garnaas-Holmes ©2014

                                                                          - Karen Wojahn


Forgiveness is the portal through which we can step into a future without carrying the hurts and wrongs of the past.

When properly understood, forgiveness can become a way of life that allows us to avoid being burdened by the petty grievances of the day as well as to let go of long held resentments caused by past, painful events.

Forgiveness is an accounting term. It means that a person is released from a debt without paying.  

Forgiveness is a choice. It is a choice that allows us to disentangle ourselves from a debt/wrong, so that it is no longer a part of our life. We are literally free of it and no longer need to spend any time or emotional energy managing it.

If we require some form of recompense, however lenient or patient we are, the account has been settled by mutual agreement and forgiveness is no longer an option. In one way or another the debt has been paid.

I have often had people tell me that they struggled with the Biblical command to "forgive and forget." Their reaction is always one of surprise when I tell them that the Bible does not pair the act of forgiveness with forgetting.

Forgiveness is a choice - forgetting is not. As a matter of fact, it could be dangerous for us if we had no memories of the wrongs done to us. 

To try and forget is to pretend that reality did not happen. This "pseudo-spiritual" amnesia only dooms us to continue allowing dysfunctional behaviors and relationships to bring unhappiness into our lives. While forgiveness sets us free to move on and make different choices - forgetting keeps us mired in unexamined repetitive life patterns.

Forgiving is a decision not to dwell on what has been done to us. To dwell on these things is to personally pay an emotional price, over and over again, for something that is past. It was well stated by the person who said; "To refuse to forgive, is like drinking poison and hoping the other person gets sick."

Forgiveness opens up a damaged relationship to the possibility of reconciliation, although that might require substantial time and significant work. New boundaries need to be negotiated and the sincere participation must be mutual.

While our relationship with the Holy is one of continual forgiveness, grace, and mercy, it is always the way of God to challenge us to a new way of being.

                                                                              - David Milligan


A comment heard in every discussion about forgiveness is that the hardest person to forgive is oneself. We can’t bear our own failings - the times we make mistakes, have not met our own expectations, have hurt others and caused disappointment and pain. We create defensive arguments to justify our actions but we know the truth. At risk of having my Anglican roots show I quote: “…the remembrance of them (our actions or inactions) is grievous unto us, the burden of them is intolerable.” 

This prayer of repentance (see last week’s reflections on repentance) is an appeal for forgiveness, to have that burden lifted. I don’t think we should be asking for that relief because, as it notes earlier in this prayer, we have “…provoked most justly thy wrath and indignation” but because clinging to the pain of what we have done separates us from the unconditional love that absorbs that pain along with every other part of us. 

Anybody remember going to confession? At its best, confession is a time and place to speak the truth. Putting the truth into words and saying it aloud in a sacred space can lift that intolerable burden. It offers us the space to forgive ourselves and take Jesus up on the invitation to “Come to me, all ye that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.” That invitation was not issued to only those who take their place in a confessional however. It is, with its promise of forgiveness, open to all, anywhere, anytime.

                                                                              - June Waters


Forgiveness is more complicated than saying "that's okay" when someone says "I'm sorry". That may be all that's required if someone bumps into your cart at the grocery store; but real forgiveness is a process of moving past real hurt, and it isn't instantaneous. 

Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes writes extensively about the process of forgiveness in her book, "Women Who Run with the Wolves". She clarifies what forgiveness means: "Most people have trouble with forgiveness because they have been taught that it is a singular act to be completed in one sitting. That is not so. Forgiveness has many layers, many seasons. In our culture there is a notion that forgiveness is a 100 percent proposition. All or nothing. It is also taught that forgiveness means to overlook, to act as though a thing has not occurred. This is not true either." 

Dr. Estes outlines four stages of forgiveness that provide a pathway to healing. She says:

"To begin to forgive, it is good to forego for awhile. That is, to take a break from thinking about the person or event for awhile. The idea is not to overlook but to become agile and strong at detaching from the issue." 

"The second phase is to forebear, particularly in the sense of abstaining from punishing; neither thinking about it nor acting on it. It is extremely useful to practice this kind of containment, for it coalesces the issue into one place instead of allowing it to flow everywhere." 

The third stage outlined by Dr. Estes is to forget. She says: "to forget means to aver from memory, to refuse to dwell -- in other words, to let go, to loosen one's hold, particularly on memory. We practice conscious forgetting by refusing to summon up the fiery material." 

Finally, we get to forgiveness. She reminds us that "final forgiveness is not surrender. It is a conscious decision to cease to harbor resentment, which includes forgiving a debt and giving up one's resolve to retaliate. "

Dr. Estes goes on to talk about many ways we can construct forgiveness, from simply letting go, to asking for some redress for wrongs. "One of the most profound forms of forgiveness is to give compassionate aid to the offending person in one form or another."

The holy work of forgiveness makes us stronger, if we are doing it with conscious attention. The holy work of forgiveness offers release to the person who has wronged us, but more importantly, it offers freedom to us; we are no longer nailed to the past, constantly picking at the offense and keeping it always before us. We are free to choose what is next. 

                                                                                          - Kay Sylvester


“Let forgiveness flow like a river between us, from each one to each one.”

                                                                              - Parker Palmer


Forgiveness seems like an elusive commodity these days. For years, we have listened to a vitriolic public debate about healthcare, unemployment, the environment or how to help those who experience injustice in our society. It is hard to imagine how anyone can forgive or find common ground in an environment of such discontent. Yet, I saw a glimmer of what is possible last weekend when I walked door to door in the east side Los Angeles neighborhood of Boyle Heights. The ground there is polluted by years of toxic waste from a nearby battery re-cycling plant. After court battles and countless delays, 10,000 homes remain contaminated by lead. We were there to offer soil testing, blood tests and soil remediation to residents.


I was prepared to encounter serious anger. I was angry for them! How would they ever be able to forgive the people that caused everything around them to be untouchable? I expected to hear a litany of the wrongs they had endured. And, they would have had every right to do that. Instead, they welcomed us. They were simply grateful that we had information about what to do next to make their homes and families safe. There were no accusations. Are things uncertain for them? Yes. Are they afraid for their children? Yes. Are they upset and angry? No doubt. Yet, we met only graciousness.


At the end of the day, I came away with this: The bitter rhetoric of today’s news is not real. It is toxic for sure; but it is not real. Real life is in places like the contaminated neighborhood I visited in Boyle Heights. The good people there do not have time to be held hostage by bitterness. They are too busy trying to make a safe life for their family.


Is that forgiveness? Perhaps not; but it is a softening of words, a gentleness that invites the potential for authentic forgiveness. It opens a door so that mercy can flow between us allowing boundaries to disappear. It was Jesus after all who taught us to pray: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Amen, Amen.

                                                                                 - Laura Siriani


Forgiveness is simple, right? When someone hurts us or offends us or takes from us something dear, we know that the humane and Christian thing to do is to forgive them. Done! But not really. What about justice? What about dignity, standing up for oneself, or protecting oneself (or loved ones) from harm?

The call to forgive does not involve submitting to abuse. It does not require you to be a victim of injustice or cruelty. A beautiful, short, gentle book called “Don’t Forgive Too Soon: Extending the Two Hands That Heal” by Dennis Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn, and Matthew Linn proposes that when forgiveness is handled rightly, it can be the foundation for ending the cycle of violence in our world. Cultivating and spreading a healthy understanding (and practice!) of forgiveness is what can actually end violence in the world. This is powerful, essential stuff!

The gist of this approach to forgiveness is that we need (and get) to extend two hands to our offender: “one hand that stops the person who hurt us and the other hand that reaches out, calms that person and offers new life.” So justice is never abandoned, but neither is there a place for hateful revenge. Rather, the practice of forgiveness involves the offended moving through an honest, often painful process that can open up their hearts to get to the place where they can genuinely extend that second “hand,” laying to rest any desires or impulses for adding injury to the offender.

The authors present accessible strategies for preparing one’s heart for such radical transformation (“nonviolent engagement as a way of life” is key to their approach). I, for one, feel a need to return to studying these principles of nonviolence. When our holy anger at the wrongs in the world brims over into reciprocal hate, we know our heart has work to do. I assume I’m not alone in this?? I want to honor and sanctify my personal relationships as well as my relationship to the broader world by opening myself to the spiritual giants of our day who have urged humanity to enter the profoundly difficult and profoundly important inner work of nonviolence. Maybe I’ll reread this book by the Linns I’ve referenced here, and maybe I’ll pick up again my copy of Desmond Tutu’s “No Future Without Forgiveness.” That’s a start.

Now to find time to read books… 

                                                                                - Cassie Lewis


In the church of my childhood there was plenty of opportunity to repent. Many a worship service ended with an altar call admonishing us, the congregation, to make our lives right with God. It was not unusual that after I had marched myself down the aisle and recommitted my life to God, I would miserably and utterly fail in my attempt to change – usually within hours.

I squandered a great deal of spiritual energy trying to repent of being myself. I thought that I had to change my essential being or God would be mad.

It was many years later that I came to understand that repentance was not for God, but for me. I did not need to make things right with God. God was not the angry anthropomorphized deity of my youth – God was love, forgiveness, grace and mercy. I needed to repent of those things that stood in the way of experiencing my life at its fullest, this life that is a gift of God.

Sometimes we make a concept more difficult that it needs to be. Repentance is not a religious word, per se, although we find it often in both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. In practical terms the word repent means “to turn around,” but the Greek word for repentance (metanoia) literally means, “to think differently, afterwards.” In other words, when your actions, don’t serve you or those around you – do something different. Use your 20/20 hindsight to change your behavior.

These days I try to be more conscious of the small issues in my life that derail me. Not eating well, not enough sleep, overcommitting, and well, the list goes on. I have found that it is the accumulation of carelessness in the many daily actions that support and exacerbate the more difficult matters of my life. When my behaviors in my relationship do not value the other or myself the fabric of my everyday life breaks down.  

So I find repentance to be an optimistic approach to life. I simply need to learn to pay attention to the voice of the internal Divine GPS/navigation device within me when it once again says, “make the next legal u-turn.”

                                                                     - David Milligan


The Repentant Magdalen, painted by Georges de La Tour, 1630. 

(Click here to see the image.)

Stories of Mary Magdalene's life, actions, and relationship to Jesus cast her in many roles depending on the intentions of the teller. She is portrayed as a woman of ill repute living the most sinful life imaginable. However many personalities she is given, she does seem to come to rest most often in the role of the repentant woman. Jesus welcomed her into his life and she changed.

If you Google images of repentance you find many dramatic scenes of swooning guilt and shame with tearful eyes gazing toward heaven.

Not this Mary. Look at her. She is gazing into a mirror and her expression is calm, even pleasant. She touches the skull (the ubiquitous symbol of mortality) gently instead of recoiling in fear. The candle light is warm and lovely. She reflects on the changes in her life. She has repented, changed direction, and not because of judgement or fear but thanks to love and acceptance.

                                                                               - June Waters


“Repentance “ brings to mind visions of people on their knees, weeping; or people sitting in a confessional booth, reciting their sins. It’s a loaded word for many people, eliciting memories of childhood guilt, or learning to make “an act of contrition”. 

These images are not particularly life-giving or helpful, but “repentance” can be both. The word we translate as “repentance” is “metanoia”in Greek, which means to “turn around”. 

If you discover that you have gotten on the 405 NORTH when you meant to get on the 405 SOUTH, what do you do? You turn around. If you discover that your choices have led you to a dead-end, what do you do? You turn around.

“Repentance” is part of wisdom, self-care, and growth. Only the truly intract-able refuse to see when they are making a mistake; we all know someone who insists that going full-speed ahead, harder and faster, no matter what, will make things better. The wiser course is to observe carefully what effect our actions are having, and to correct our course if we’re getting negative or hurtful results. That’s repentance.

I think we are overdue as a species for some extremely serious repentance – that is, course correction – in our attitude and actions towards our planet. We are the heirs of many who drilled and dug and used and dammed and overbuilt. We no longer know how to stop using petroleum, coal, natural gas, or metals pulled from the earth. But going harder and faster in the same direction is killing the earth; killing species; killing us, if we could only see it. What would happen if we, together, stopped going full-tilt toward ultimate consumption? What would happen if we asked a lot of questions before we undertook yet more strip-mining, fracking, high-polluting industry?

Whether as a society or as individuals, it serves us well periodically to stop, check our compasses, and correct our course. Where are we pointed? Are we headed toward the holy, the whole, the good, the generous, the inclusive, the loving? If not, REPENT. Turn toward the light that’s always streaming our way from God, who loves us wholly; and let that light illumine our path and determine which way we will go.

                                                                           - Kay Sylvester


Our meditations this week focus on repentance, turning back to God. Henri Nouwen describes it this way:


"For most of my life I have struggled to find God, to know God, to love God. I have tried hard to follow the guidelines of the spiritual life—pray always, work for others, read the Scriptures—and to avoid the many temptations to dissipate myself. I have failed many times but always tried again, even when I was close to despair.


Now I wonder whether I have sufficiently realized that during all this time God has been trying to find me, to know me, and to love me. The question is not “How am I to find God?” but “How am I to let myself be found by him?” The question is not “How am I to know God?” but “How am I to let myself be known by God?” And, finally, the question is not “How am I to love God?” but “How am I to let myself be loved by God?” God is looking into the distance for me, trying to find me, and longing to bring me home.”

                                  ― Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming

                                                                                   - Laura Siriani



I was raised in a Christian community that prided itself on its certainty. As a matter of fact, certainty was considered the greatest hallmark of faith. There was nothing new to discover about God because it had all been nailed down by our doctrines and creeds. To question or think beyond these was considered heresy and spiritually dangerous. Ours was but to believe.

I was fully on board. I memorized hundreds of Bible passages. I knew the words to all of the hymns. I could argue down most anyone who dared question those things that we had declared to be incontrovertible Truth.

Ironically, I now define faith as living without certainty. (We walk by faith and not by sight – Paul in II Corinthians.) To truly discover God is to open our hearts beyond what our mind believes it knows, in order to discover the vastness, the diversity, and richness of the God who can only be described as love.

When certainty failed me, when all of my remembered answers evaporated in mid-air, I stood before the Ground of All Being empty, naked and open to something more. This was the faltering beginning of my own discovery of the Divine.  

I began to experience God’s unrestrained love that seeped into my emptiness. I experienced God’s light that illuminated my nakedness and removed my shame. I experienced the joy of discovery that daily continues to unfold. 

  I look back those many decades ago and realize that it was often knowledge itself that stood in the way of discovery. It was my firmly entrenched religious ideology that blinded me to the God who had been present with me all along.

I now experience the joy of discovery when I am malleable, when I am willing to relax my grasping on to what I think I know.

Holy One, give me the courage to float in you without the struggle of wanting firm ground under my feet. Give me your vision to see the world through your eyes of unconditional love and acceptance. Motivate me to participate, as your hands, in building the inclusive kingdom of God rather than the exclusionary walls of ideology.                                                                                                                                            Amen.  

                                                                            - David Milligan


What is your earliest memory? I remember standing in my crib in a room that was dark except for a sliver of light coming through the door. I remember not needing anything, so I was quiet. I think that I remember this because of the sudden shock of knowing something rather than sensing needs to be fulfilled. Those people - mother, father, sisters - were outside the door.  I had no expectations. 

That moment when memories begin is the first moment of discovery.  It is the moment when Helen Keller remembered and discovered simultaneously that things have names. Discovery can't be planned. Examples of discoveries that have changed the world are often stories of coincidence, error, and are the result of being willing to see beyond expectations. 

Let go of expectations. Discover what lies beyond them.

                                                                          - June Waters


Adults learn best by discovery; actually, so do kids. But we are trained from an early age to get the "right" answer. I remember raising my hand as high as I could get it in my elementary-school classroom; I read a lot, and retained a lot of information that I read, so I was often well-prepared with the "right" answer. 

It was such shock to me the first time I encountered a more exploratory learning environment; I felt adrift. If there wasn't a "right" answer, I literally didn't know what to do. 

I'm afraid we often imagine our spiritual lives to be a series of quests for the "right answer", when, in truth, we are designed for discovery. There's a reason that the greatest human stories follow a recognizable pattern; whether it's Moses in the wilderness, the Odyssey, or the Lord of the Rings, we tell stories over and over that remind us of this great truth: we learn our lives by living them, by going through frightening and challenging times, by discovering our weaknesses and strengths. And we are sustained by help unlooked-for, bread from heaven, and companions fulfilling their own quests. 

If we bring a spirit of discovery to our daily lives, if we are determined to learn from every experience, if we are open to knowing ourselves deeply, if we learn to love the journey, we are doing holy work within ourselves that will benefit the world, too. We go looking for God and discover that God is everywhere, waiting for us.

                                                                 - Kay Sylvester


My fifth grade my teacher,  encouraged my fascination with archeology. She asked questions and gave me books that took me to worlds and treasures I could not have imagined. Even today, those are the first news stories I read. Yet, I am always startled when there is a new discovery. It seems to me that we should have found everything by now! How is it possible that only last year a new monument was located at Stonehenge – 90 enormous monoliths, while 10,000-year-old stone tools were uncovered near Seattle? Six years ago, a first century Synagogue was unearthed in the city of Magdala at the Sea of Galilee. Each new discovery reveals more about who we are and upends something we thought we knew.

For us, discovery is constant. One sacred moment can turn everything we know upside down; whether it is the first cry of a long awaited baby, a blazing sunset, or the magnificent image of a star filled night, holiness changes us. We are witnesses to God’s abundant love and that is the most upending discovery of all. 

Whoever you are, you are human. Wherever you are, you live in the world, which is just waiting for you to notice the holiness in it.” 

                                                            ― Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith

                                                                       - Laura Siriani


This weekend I discovered a new layer of darkness in my hometown of Anaheim. At a park near my home, there was a small but provocative KKK demonstration. The six KKK demonstrators were quickly surrounded and violently attacked by counter-protesters. My heart ached first to know that the hate-filled KKK still is active, right here in my own neighborhood. I then was pained by learning that the counter-protesters retaliated with violence, letting the hateful rhetoric of their enemies have enough power over them to lose control of their actions, adding even more hate to the mix.


I experienced yet another layer of pain as I reflected on how, that very same day, I myself felt violent urges well up in my body in response to hateful, cruel rhetoric lobbed at my Catholic brothers and sisters, and at women in general. As I listened to the man with the megaphone aggressively lobbing verbal daggers at these devout Christians (and me as a Christian woman), in the name of Jesus, no less, and as he pointed out the elderly nun in full habit walking by and growled that all nuns are “nothing more than whores of Rome” and “the Mother Mary you all worship is nowhere but rotting in Hell,” I felt my whole body tremble and tighten, filled with  loathing for that man.


I was grateful to be able to withdraw from the scene and lose myself in the chapel of the event I was attending where I could walk their labyrinth in the cool, dimly lit space accompanied by gentle harp and cello. With slow steps and deep breaths, surrounded by a community of fellow prayerful souls, my spirit became quiet, strong, and grounded again.


My discovery this week is multi-layered.

  • I am discovering that there continues to be real darkness all around. I need to continue letting it ignite in me the holy anger that we are called to feel in the face of injustice and hate.
  •  I am likewise discovering that that same darkness is still inside me and not just “out there” in “those bad guys.” I feel led to continue the inner work of being shaped in the mysterious ways that shift violent, hateful responses into ones that will actually bring healing to the darkness rather than perpetuate it. Nonviolent resistance, as taught by the spiritual giants of Gandhi and MLK, Jr., does not happen without serious, long-term inner work.
  • I am discovering again the tremendous value of taking time and creating spaces for BREATH, QUIET, MEDITATION, PRAYERFUL RELFECTION…whatever that looks like for you, just do it. It changes our body, our spirit, our mind. We can’t rightly engage in action without a grounded spirit.

                                                                        - Cassie Lewis


Our Path

by Steve Garnaas-Holmes

Times may turn dark;

they always have.

Our calling remains unchanged.

The voice of hope is undiminished.

The world may turn

toward ravage and greed;

the acid of fear stain our faces,

the voracious appetite of power

consume the earth and its silent ones,

but the Holy One's tender mercy

does not waver or abate.

The voice of calm still whispers.

Your path may take you

through ulcered valleys of shadow.

The Gentle One is still with you.

Our path is not to save the world;

only One may do that.

Our path is to learn to love

even in the darkness.

Our calling is still to be woven in, 

to cry out for the hurting,

to take mercy to the streets,

to be gentle among the violent

and strong amidst the fearful,

to mend the fabric even as it is torn,

to heal and bless even in our defeat.

Life may turn dark; it often does.

Crucifixion reoccurs. 

But the world in its suffering

will be made pure light.

Even in the evening of our power,

even in the dusk of the world,

the light of the Merciful One shines on,

and we are given this: to share the light,

to share the light

until we ourselves are pure light.

Steve Garnaas-Holmes © 2014

Unfolding Light;



When I was 10 years old, my parents decided that our family would spend our summer vacations touring the United States. My mother carefully mapped out the most scenic routes so that our drive would be both rich and beautiful.

My siblings and I choose to look out the window as little as possible. We spent our time arguing over who was taking up too much of the back seat, whose turn it was to sit in the middle and peppering our parents with questions, like; “how much further?” and “when are we going to eat?” We doggedly declared how thirsty we were while begging to stop at the next restroom.

My parent’s daily agenda was usually unrealistic as to how far we could sensibly drive in a single day. But because we had “trailer park” reservations we motored on, often into the night to make our destination. This left little time to stop for some serendipitous excursion along the way.

I look back on those several summers and long to have a do-over. I would watch the scenery and appreciate the vast variety of breathtaking landscapes. I would enjoy the fleeting time with my siblings. I would keep a journal.

There were so many questions I never got around to asking my parents, yet during our travels we had all the time in the world.

I am still learning how to journey, how to ask more questions, how to be patient and enjoy the route along the way, how to savor Holy moments. I am learning that destinations arrive far too quickly and that I should slow down and appreciate a detour here and there.

                                                                           - David Milligan


The Journey from There to Here

When my mother died in 2009 I became very restless. I discovered I had lived in my hometown in upstate New York most of my life, even with a twenty year absence that included college, New York City, New Jersey and beyond. I decided at the age of 54 that I wanted to move back to New York City. I found a job there, rented my house upstate, and John and I moved there in 2010. If you love New York City there is no place else to be, and I loved being back. Until I grew restless again. I wanted to move back upstate to return to a job I loved and a tug toward something else, something that wasn’t there anymore.

And within three years I was restless again. Where to go?

Can this zigzagging back and forth from my hometown to anyplace not my hometown be considered a journey? To what? Away from what? A journey, I realize now, like grief, is not carefully mapped travel.

Next stop: California. Among other things, Los Angeles has five members of my family, one good friend, and sunny Februarys. In order to make a move possible I obsessively scanned job sites for interesting potential career moves - this museum, that non-profit. Suddenly there was a posting from an Episcopal church. Well, isn’t that funny, I thought. I could do that, I thought.

I find myself at the end of a journey that somehow led to this point on the map, 3000 miles from everything else, to a place that welcomes all and feels like, you know, home.

                                                                               - June Waters


There is something so exhilarating about a road trip. The minute I’m away from familiar roads and landmarks, the level of my attention shifts; it seems that the longer I travel, the more I notice and give my full attention to what I’m seeing. The hills full of wild mustard that, from home, have been a distant smudge, are now right beside me, and I can see individual plants and their tiny yellow blossoms filling up my eyes. I count things: hawks on fence posts; vultures; “Scenic Point” pull-outs. I feel as though it’s my job, somehow, to take in the details whizzing by, and delight in them.

But just about my favorite part of any journey are the places I stop. I love getting out of the car, stiffly, and stretching, inhaling, seeing where I am, smelling the local smells, feeling the different texture and temperature of the air, that feeling of being somewhere else.

I’m encouraged when I realize that, in all our talk during Lent about “journey”, there is room as well for resting places. It is a good and joyful thing to stop and breathe, to take it all in. Regroup if you need to; make adjustments; decide, if it serves you, to change your direction. A journey, after all, is a different undertaking than a trip. There’s more room for variation, delay, and exploration.

Give yourself the gift of attention to your journey, and give yourself the gift of stopping to breathe along the way. You will find good resting places by paying attention to what others have done, whether you read reviews of the best roadside diners, or read the accounts of spiritual pilgrims who have gone before us. Their advice is worth attending to; but don’t discount, either, the joy of discovering something new on your own. Sit down. Have some pie. Emerge refreshed, and ready again to be on the road.

                                                                       - Kay Sylvester


“You trace my journeys and my resting-places and are acquainted with all my ways.”

                                                                                Psalm 139 vs2

Those of us who have been working through the process of becoming a deacon have heard the word “journey” hundreds of times, in every imaginable context. The truth is that we are all on a journey that begins at our own beginning. Along the way, we  experience moments that spark our connection to the wonder of God. Those time are stepping-stones that bind us to every joy, sadness, frustration, fear, and every love of our life. Each stone traces a memory that belongs only to us and to God.

Lent is a time  to gather our stones, hold them, and know that they are sacred. They are ours.     

                                                                           - Laura Siriani


There are many kinds of journeys we might find ourselves on—a journey of self-understanding, or healing from deep grief, or understanding our unfolding vocation and purpose, or understanding God and God’s role in the universe, or experiencing God’s presence in our lives…

What does it mean to stay the course on “the journey” during those inevitable phases where the path before us is far from clear, when the path is thickly covered with thorny branches, blocking our view of the Way? Do we persevere and charge ahead, whacking frantically at whatever is in our way? Do we turn back, assuming we’ve surely taken a wrong turn? How the heck are we to know?

Staying the course on the journey requires discernment. Sometimes the journey is so messy that we don’t get to rely on our intellect to help us “think” our way out of it—there is no way to KNOW with certainty the right course of action. Instead, in moments of utter desperation, we may be called to simply stop, let go of our efforts, and pay attention, very close attention.

The grand, adventuresome spiritual journey, in all its varied forms, invites us to listen to the quiet voice of God within us, and follow.

                                                                         - Cassie Lewis


I do not understand why some people are fond of the desert. I find the dryness, the heat, the endless miles of rock oppressive. At its worst, the desert seems threatening to me. Even the occasional hill, burnished by the sun, holds little promise, and little hope.

So when my spiritual director suggested, some thirty years ago, that I make a personal retreat at St. Andrew’s Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in Valyermo, I was resistant. Nestled in the northern foothills San Gabriel Mountains just where they meet the Mojave Desert, the Abbey is known for its hospitality and its beauty—but it is still in the desert!

Even so, I decided to go. Whether I was led there by the Holy Spirit or driven there by my desire to please my spiritual director—or a little bit of both—I did not know. What I did discover, soon after I arrived, was that Fr. Eleutherius’s Garden would provide me with plentiful shade, beauty for the eyes, and sweet fragrance among the quaking aspen, stately poplar, white and yellow daffodils, purple irises and lilac bushes.  

The little Belgian monk, now at rest in Heaven, told me on my first visit to the garden that he had begun to plant it some 25 years previously, and that now, it would be some 20 degrees cooler than the rest of the grounds. Relieved, I planned to spend the bulk of my daylight hours in that lovely spot.

So what was it that made me decide, the next morning, to by-pass the garden, the pear orchard (in full bloom!), and the shaded lake filled with koi, and to hike up to the Cemetery in the hills above the main Ranch House? Whether I was led there by the Holy Spirit or driven there by my desire to please my spiritual director—or a little bit of both—I did not know. I just knew I had to

go there.

At first glance, everything in the desert seems to have died with the nameless dead who rest beneath the unmarked granite crosses at each grave. The yucca, the cactus, and the scrub oak stand like sentries, guarding these monuments to what seems like the victory of death in a parched world. I wanted to leave, to scurry down the path and back to Fr. Eleutherius’s Garden.  

I was certainly free to do that; nobody was forcing me to stay in this deserted place. And yet, I found myself sitting in the little bit of shade under the large granite altar, where the funeral masses were celebrated each time a monk or oblate of the abbey died. 

Mahatma Gandhi once said that “in the midst of death, life persists.” Perhaps at some other time, I will resent persistent life—but not this time. This time, that saying was a testimony of hope. 

Because up at that stark Cemetery in the midst of the desert, I stayed long enough to see something more than death. The Cemetery stands high on a hill overlooking hundreds of acres of ranch land operated by the monks who live and work there. The air was so clear that day that I could see miles into theMojave, as well as the nearby orchards and gardens cultivated also by the monks. A gentle breeze caressed my face and filled the air with the fragrances of lilac and desert sage.

In the distance I could see Fr. Eleutherius’s Garden where the aspen and poplar pointed to heaven, and desert breezes danced through their leaves, swishing their sweet music. Although I could not see them except in my memory, I remembered the purple and yellow flower flowers that adorned the narrow paths that wander through the garden.

And at the end of the garden, the desert. But what I thought at first was dead is bursting with life. The desert teems with microscopic spiders. Ants. Gnats. Bees. And on the ground, so tiny I had to kneel to see them--tiny white 5-petaled flowers, so small that if they have a fragrance, it is lost to nostrils as

large as mine. When I stand, they sparkle like diamonds and precious metals in the sunlight.

I don't know how long they bloom--perhaps only for a few hours--and then they die. And perhaps no one ever sees them, except God, and a wandering retreatant who kneels to pray. And that's okay, because then another flower blooms, and then another. Life persists—even in the desert.


                                                                          - Karen Wojahn


OMG (that is the shortest prayer I know). I look around and once again I don't recognize where I am. The terrain is foreign to me. How could this happen? I work so hard to control my environment. I try so hard to stay on the path that I set out to walk - and then - I'm not. I'm not on the path I thought. I hate feeling lost.

Fear greets me – my old friend fear, here to collect me for another ride. Another drama filled episode of projections and anxiety. We've spent so many sleepless nights together. But maybe, just maybe, this time I will turn fear away. Maybe, this time, I will recognize that fear is simply my own graphic imagination. Maybe I am learning not to resist the unknown.

Holy One, bathe me in your presence. Still my frenetic mind. Shore up my courage to confront this new wilderness. Open my eyes to its unique beauty. Teach me, once again, that the wilderness always leads to life's next amazing adventure.

                                                                           - David Milligan


“Wilderness”, in the context of Lent, invites us to remember the 40 days that Jesus spent alone, listening for the voice of God. Because of the geography of the Middle East, I always picture Jesus in the desert, surrounded by emptiness, sunlight, wind, and rocks. That’s one kind of wilderness; but I grew up knowing a very different kind. I grew up in the mountains of Southwest Colorado, where wilderness meant a landscape of mountains, with stacks of evergreens climbing their slopes. Wilderness meant rivers smelling of the willows lining their banks. “Being in the wilderness” meant a lot of climbing up and scrambling down in crisp air at high elevations.

The idea of wilderness as a place to hear the voice of God makes complete sense to me. No one geography is better that another; what is necessary and life-giving is what happens to me in a place that is not defined by the impact of humans. And what happens to me is that I become hyper-aware of my surroundings. I seem to see everything with fresh eyes. I notice the birds in a new way. I hear the voice of the stream chuckling downhill and sing along. I am freshly aware of the texture of the ground, the tree bark, and the stones; and with sufficient time, I begin to see the harmony between all the elements of the landscape, and myself as part of it rather than standing outside it. I imagine – and occasionally enact – lying down on the cool moss or standing barefoot in the achingly cold river, and my perspective shifts; I see that I am a creature, as beloved and beautiful as everything else in this “empty” place. And I give thanks.

                                                                        - Kay Sylvester


“After his baptism, Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness…” The Gospel of Luke

Year after year, I walk into church on the first Sunday of Lent and I am invariably surprised. All of the crosses are covered; instead of flowers at the altar, there are bare branches; and the joyous water of baptism has been replaced with rocks. The symbols of the season invite us into the wilderness and an examination of our lives. What anger, sadness or self-doubt have we managed to collected over the last year? Is there someone we need to forgive? Where can there be renewal? Lent reminds us that transformation comes when there is a disruption to the comfortable structure of our lives. It gives us permission to mark time in the wilderness and grow; let us begin.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                 - Laura E. Siriani


Sunday’s prayers during the service read:

“As we journey through the wilderness, let us lay aside every burden that keeps us from traveling lightly...”

I’m reminded of my first international backpacking trip as a 22 year old. I realized that my pack was just a wee bit too heavy as I nearly toppled over whenever wedging myself onto the jam-packed public buses of Latin America with the enormous pack on my back. Within two days of stumbling through foreign towns in search of the nearest hostel, I made the wise choice to ship home a number of heavy items that had previously seemed essential.

Lent is the time for taking stock and freeing ourselves from the burdens of not only the bad things but also paring down the good things in our lives, simplifying, so we can fully experience the adventures of life. If we pay attention, we may even find that God’s presence will seep into those newly emptied spaces, a gift that miraculously lightens our packs.

                                                                                - Cassie Lewis